Thursday, April 12, 2007

29 in 30 - The one where I get political

I’ve always prided myself on the fact that I’ve always been very accepting of anyone who was “different”. Whether someone was of a different race from me, a different sexual orientation, had some sort of disability, whatever it was that made him or her different, it didn’t really matter to me.

My very first best friend, when I started school in Portugal was an inter-racial girl. Mikaela was half black, half white. I don’t even know if I understood any of that. I just knew she was my friend. The very first boy to ever carry my books home, was the only black kid in my class (again, also in Portugal). I was also very friendly with one of the only Down syndrome kids in our school.

When I moved to the United States, I was the outsider myself for a while. I spoke funny (I had learned British English, not American English before I left Portugal), dressed funny (we didn’t have a whole lot of money when we first got here, and hand-me downs look like hand-me downs, no matter what you do to them), and I just didn’t fit. Maybe from those experiences, I surrounded myself with the rest of the kids who didn’t quite fit. And from that, I continued a cycle of always having a very eclectic group of friends, different races, different social classes, and different sexual orientations.

At least 4 of my male friends and one of my female friends in high school came out of the closet either during, or right after, but we (their close friends) always knew the truth, and loved them anyway, because it didn’t make a bit of difference to us. I was lucky enough to go to a very diverse high school, in terms of not only different races, but different social classes, and any other difference you can imagine. I say lucky, because I think it is a blessing to be exposed to such diverse cultures at such a pivotal age. My friends were white, black, Asian, Hispanic, Indian, rich, poor, middle-class, popular, unpopular, geeks, nerds, jocks, fat, skinny, tall, short…whatever…I was NOT one of the popular kids, but I got along with everyone, and even though I hated high school while I was there, I look back on it now as a truly defining time in my life.

College for me was a brand new experience; I had a new opinion of myself, much higher self-esteem, and therefore, was able to enjoy life more fully than I ever had in high school. Still, I continued to surround myself with an eclectic group.

Nothing has changed, as I’ve become an adult. I still have one of the most multi-cultural groups of friends of anyone I know. A party at my house is like a United Colors of Benneton ad. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I value my friendships with members of other cultures, who only add to my experience in life by adding portions of their culture to mine. And mine is also a mixed culture of sorts. Although by blood I am 100% Portuguese, I was born in Africa, and brought up in Portugal by parents whose culture had deeply absorbed African customs from the music to the food. Then I wound up in America, in the melting pot city of Lowell.

And all this history so I can get something off my chest; as an immigrant, who had to learn a language and adapt to a new culture, who has surrounded herself with other cultures and lifestyles, and absorbed all that “difference” has to offer, and considers herself to be 100% American, and everything that America SHOULD represent, well, I think we are TOO DAMN SENSITIVE and need to get over ourselves.

People in the media (and more so in real life) will constantly make offensive remarks. Human beings will always be ignorant, prejudiced and inappropriate, sad to say, but it’s human nature to f-up. And I’m not condoning the Michael Richard’s or Mel Gibson’s or Isaiah Washington’s, or Don Imus’ of the world, or their behavior. They said hateful things, in a hateful manner, and certainly should be called on their behavior, and most certainly serve some punishment for it. But SERIOUSLY, do we need to turn it into a media frenzy where that is all anyone talks about for WEEKS?? Are we really doing any good by constantly playing and replaying or saying and restating what they’ve done and said? Are we really ever going to get any further in our search for equality when all we do is harp on the negativity and just give it more power? Is it helping? Because if it is, then I stand corrected, and I apologize, but all I’m seeing is a media circus, emphasizing the negative, and not offering a damn thing in the way of how to fix it.

Let’s spend less time dividing ourselves into groups that can be offended, and more time uniting ourselves into a COUNTRY that stands for something. We are so damn selfish and individualistic in this society, that we are all up in arms when we feel we have been personally offended, but the world HATES America right now and as a collective, we are not doing a damn to fix it. And I’ll tell you, as someone who has CHOSEN to be an American, I get mighty offended when I hear other countries dragging our name through the mud, and yet…I can’t really find much to defend us with.

Yes, racism, sexism, homophobia, these are all still very much in evidence in this country. But so are greed, self-righteousness, vanity and the syndrome of “if it ain’t about me, then why should I care?”

I used to joke that if everyone married and had children interracially, then we’d have one less issue to worry about. But I don’t believe that now. We’d just replace it with something else. We’d never survive in a Utopia type of society, with no one to single out. So, with that being the case, I’ve chosen to just live my life trying my damnedest to not fall prey to any of those prejudices. Like anyone else, I fail at times. We all do, whether it is laughing at the fat kid, or using a racial slur, we are all guilty of hurting someone different from ourselves at one point or another. But hopefully we realize our mistakes, and learn not to make them again. And we stop playing the victim. Because ONE perverted guy only has conversations with my breasts, never with my face, it does not mean that all women are oppressed, and we’ll never be considered equal…it means that this particular guy is an ass, and I need to continue living my life to prove (to myself) that I can do whatever I put my mind do, female or not.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t be outraged that those in the media would voice such horrendous insults, I’m just saying let’s not give them even more power by our reactions. And let’s stop making everything ABOUT race, or sexual orientation, or whatever the difference may be. I really think the more we focus on the differences, the worse we make it. The longer we keep an us v. them (whoever the us and them is at the moment), the harder it’ll be to become a “we”…


Literary Feline said...

Very well said!

Karina said...

Thanks...I have a feeling I'm not done yet with this particular vein of political commentary either...something else set me off today, but I'll save that for another time.